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Book Review: Binti by Nnedi Okorafor (Series, #1)

December 22, 2016 Leave a comment

Book Review: Binti by Nnedi Okorafor (Series, #1)Summary:
Her name is Binti, and she is the first of the Himba people ever to be offered a place at Oomza University, the finest institution of higher learning in the galaxy. But to accept the offer will mean giving up her place in her family to travel between the stars among strangers who do not share her ways or respect her customs.

Knowledge comes at a cost, one that Binti is willing to pay, but her journey will not be easy. The world she seeks to enter has long warred with the Meduse, an alien race that has become the stuff of nightmares. Oomza University has wronged the Meduse, and Binti’s stellar travel will bring her within their deadly reach.

If Binti hopes to survive the legacy of a war not of her making, she will need both the gifts of her people and the wisdom enshrined within the University, itself – but first she has to make it there, alive.

Review:
A scifi novella I heard about in the context of bringing some much-needed new energy to the genre. It’s not that there’s never been scifi starring a black woman, but there hasn’t been a lot of it. What I found most intriguing about the novella, though, was the main character seeking to pursue her scientific interests without losing her ties to her culture. I think this is a struggle that many first-generation college students feel, and I liked seeing it represented so eloquently in literature.

The young black woman going to university isn’t devoid of her own character and culture. The characterization isn’t just like every other scifi main character ever whose skin just happens to be darker. No, Binti is much more than her skin tone. She’s a whole backstory of a tribal culture that is simultaneously rich in scientific knowledge. (A great concept, beautifully executed). Being the first to leave is scary, and she clings to what she knows of home while also being unafraid to reach out and learn new things.

Without spoiling things, her culture and her diversity ends up being a key factor that aids in the war with the Meduse in a creative way that had me smiling. So there’s a lot to like about the novella.

I didn’t 100% love it, though. Much as I got a good sense of Binti, I didn’t get a good one of the secondary characters around her. This made it so that when the bad things start happening later in the novella, it was hard to care about them. Obviously novellas are limited by length, but I do think the secondary characters could have been more fleshed out like Binti to make the action scenes have the emotional impact on the reader that they do on her.

All in all, though, as a woman with curly hair that has been called “tentacle-like” I loved having a scifi read with tentacle-like hair playing such a central role. I’m excited to read the next entry in the series.

4 out of 5 stars

Source: Library

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Book Review and Giveaway: Black Magic & Mojitos by A.A. Chamberlynn (Series, #1)

April 4, 2016 2 comments

Book Review and Giveaway: Black Magic & Mojitos by A.A. Chamberlynn (Series, #1)Summary:
Supernatural bounty hunter Zyan Star jets down to Rio right before Carnival to meet a potential new client. She’s taken by surprise when that new client just so happens to be Raoul Cabrera, the half demon half faery supernatural overlord of Brazil. He routinely rubs elbows with Lucifer, and Zyan isn’t too keen to work with him. She’s even less inclined to when she finds out he brought in a second bounty hunter, Donovan McGregor. But Raoul persuades her…by threatening her friends. So Zyan finds herself working with Donovan against a herd of Nightmares–horse spirits that torment people with visions of their worst fears before devouring their flesh.

Review:
This was one of my accepted indie ARCs for 2016 (see complete list here). I accepted it for the combination of Rio and evil horse spirits, and I started with reading it first because I was in the mood for some light-hearted urban fantasy. What I found was a novella that set up a world I was quite interested in but left me wanting more.

Zyan is mostly a typical urban fantasy heroine, but her two friends who came with her to Rio intrigued me. I got a Buffy and her friends vibe from the group, and I appreciated an urban fantasy heroine who’s comfortable relying on other people and being open about her friendships right from the get-go. The setting was bright, colorful, and well-described, and Rio isn’t something I’ve personally seen before in an urban fantasy. The Nightmares were everything the description promised to me and more. I found them both adorable and deliciously frightening. The plot twists in a way I wasn’t expecting and brings in a new character I was happy to see.

But this novella did leave me wanting more.  It is a fine line between wanting more in a good way and being left with not enough to ever fully get into the story. This fell into the latter end of that. A novella doesn’t have room to set up a ton of backstory but the reader still needs to feel as if the smaller plot within the novella is fully told. While some of the scenes felt fully fleshed-out, others read more like initial outlines for a larger story. For about half of the novella, I felt the author needed to come back through and add some things in, in order for the reader to be able to get fully into the mini-episode of Zayn’s life being told.  I also must admit that I wasn’t too keen on the vibe between Zayn and Donovan. I hesitate to call it a romance, as it reads more like a simple sexual attraction. It’s not that I’m against that in an urban fantasy, but it read as a bit forced and took away time in the short novel from the main plot I was more interested in.

Overall, readers looking for a short dip into an urban fantasy world or who just want to see the Nightmares in action will enjoy this read. Readers who are familiar with Zayn from other stories will probably enjoy it most of all, but it’s also a good way to get a taste of Zayn and see if you would like to read more. I know I would certainly like to read a full length book featuring Zayn and her friends.

3 out of 5 stars

Source: Kindle copy from author in exchange for my honest review

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10 Last-Minute Ebook Gifts For Under $5

December 11, 2014 2 comments

It’s time for the second gift list here at Opinions of a Wolf (see the first, 10 Non-book Gifts for Book Lovers here).  I thought with Hanukkah next week and some holiday parties already happening that it would be interesting to provide a list of cheap ebooks.  Ebooks make great last-minute gifts, as you can purchase them literally on your phone on the way to the party and have them arrive in your recipient’s email with them none the wiser that you waited until the last minute.  Since you can schedule when the gift email arrives, no one needs to know that you scheduled it only 5 minutes ago.  Ebooks are also great because you can find them for very cheap but a reader who loves ebooks doesn’t care how much the ebook cost.  A book is a book is a book!  I’m not just going to tell you a list of cheap ebooks though.  I’m also going to give you a little reader’s advisory–tell you who the book would be best for.  Without further ado, here is the list, in order of cost from least to most.

For the lover of YA who enjoys a touch of fantasy:

A bunette wearing a white dress with blue embroidery gazes at a blue pixie. The book's title and author's name are on the cover in blue and white lettering.
Initiate by Tara Maya
$0
Dindi is about to undergo her people’s initiation test and ceremony that not only welcomes her to adulthood but also will determine whether or not she is a member of the Tavaedi.  The Tavaedi are a mix of religious leader, healer, and warrior who cast magic spells by dancing.  Since Dindi can see the pixies and other fae, she thinks she has a chance.  But no one in her clan has ever successfully become a Tavaedi.  Meanwhile, an exiled warrior, Kavio, is attempting to shed his old life and the haunting of his father’s wars and his mother’s powers.  But he slowly discovers a deadly plot that brings him directly to Dindi’s initiation ceremony.
This is a unique piece of YA fantasy set in a tribal world inspired by Polynesia.  The romance is light and slow-building, and the focus is primarily on growing up and becoming an adult.  See my full review here.

For the urban fantasy reader without a lot of time:

Woman with short hair in a red shirt in profile.
Cursed by S. A. Archer
$0
London works for hire doing investigations mostly for parahumans, and her best friend is a vampire who keeps hoping she’ll consent to being turned.  Her life isn’t run-of-the-mill, but it isn’t too bad either, until one day she gets Touched by a Sidhe and finds herself sucked into the Fey world bubbling just beneath the surface of the regular one.
This fast-paced novella is perfect for the reader without a lot of time who still wants to get some urban fantasy into their day.  See my full review here.

For the lover of the style of classic scifi:
A dime sits on a black background between the title and author name, both of which are on a marble background.
The Coin by Glen Cadigan
99 cents
When Richard’s physicist professor uncle dies tragically in a plane crash and leaves him his coin collection, he is shocked to find a brand-new dime from 2012.  The only thing is, it’s 1989.  A note from his uncle states that the coin is important.  Richard thinks the answer to the mystery might be in his uncle’s personal diaries he also left him, but he’s not a physicist and can’t decipher them.  As the year 2012 approaches, Richard increasingly wonders what the coin is all about.
This novella is a fun new take on the storytelling methods of classic scifi.  The science is strong enough to be interesting but not too challenging, and the result of the mystery is surprising.  See my full review here.

For zombie fans who enjoy a touch of romance:

Brain in a bowl.
Hungry For You by A. M. Harte
$2.50
A collection of zombie-themed short stories and poetry with the twist that they all have to do with romantic relationships in some way, shape, or form.
This short story collection is different and fun simultaneously.  It will appeal to zombie pans, particularly women.  See my full review here.

For the reader of lesbian romance who loves fairy tale retellings:

Girl's hair with flowers and ribbons braided into it.
Braided: A Lesbian Rapunzel by Elora Bishop
$2.99
A lesbian retelling of Rapunzel.  Gray, a witch’s daughter, visits Zelda every day.  The witch switched Gray’s fate into Zelda, so now Zelda is the one entwined with the spirit of the tree that the people worship.  She must live on the platform and every day lower her hair for people to tie ribbons and prayers into.  Gray feels horrible guilt over their switched fates, but she’s also falling in love with Zelda.
this is a fun retelling of Rapunzel, particularly if you’re looking for a non-heteronormative slant or enjoy a more magical feel.  Note that this is part of a series entitled Sappho’s Fables, which consists of lesbian retellings of fairy tales.  The novellas may be mixed and matched.  See my full review here.

For the reader of women’s fiction with an interest in Scotland:

cover_emotional geology
Emotional Geology by Linda Gillard
$2.99
Rose is a textile artist with bipolar disorder who for years found her medication dulled her ability to work.  After a stunning betrayal that landed her in a mental hospital, she has moved to a quiet, extraordinarily rural island in Scotland in an attempt to control her illness with as little medication as possible so she may still create her art.  Her life isn’t quite as quiet as she imagined it would be, though, with a warm neighbor, Shona, who introduces her to her brother, a teacher and poet.
This is an emotional, challenging, touching read for fans of contemporary fiction with a heart.  See my full review here.

For the horror fan:

Eyes behind a beaker.Gargoyles by Alan Nayes
$2.99
Amoreena is determined to be a doctor and help people.  She’s a hard-working, scholarship student on the pre-med track in her third year of college.  Unfortunately, her single mother just got diagnosed with metastatic cancer and lost her health insurance.  With no time for a job and no money for the bills, Amoreena is grateful when she is approached by a surrogacy clinic to be a surrogate for $50,000 with payments upon successful insemination and each trimester.  But after she’s successfully inseminated, Amoreena becomes increasingly concerned that something is not quite right with her baby.
If your horror fan loves Rosemary’s Baby and is particularly freaked out by evil pregnancies, they will love this book. See my full review here.

For the lover of noir and urban fantasy:

Man in a hat standing next to a Europeanish buildingOne Death at a Time by Thomas M. Hewlett
$2.99
Jack Strayhorn is a private eye and a member of Alcoholic’s Anonymous.  Only, he’s not an alcoholic, he’s one of the vampires who meet in a secret vampire group that exists under the umbrella of AA to learn how to control their urges and feed on humans without killing them.  He’s just returned to LA, his death site that he hasn’t been back to since he had to run in 1948 after becoming a vampire.  When his current missing person case shows up dead next to a Fae politician, Jack gets dragged into a mixed-up underworld of Faes, werewolves, drugs, and a group of vampires determined to rule the world.
This is a delightful mix of urban fantasy and noir and is a strong first entry for a new series.  See my full review here.

For the reader of thrillers and fans of Gone Girl:

Title against a foggy image of a man walking in the woodsI’ll Sleep When You’re Dead by E. A. Aymar
$3.03
Tom Starks has not been the same since his wife, Renee, was brutally murdered with a baseball bat in a parking lot.  He’s been struggling for the last three years to raise her daughter, who he adopted when he married Renee.  When Renee’s killer is released after a retrial finds insufficient evidence to hold him, Tom becomes obsessed with dealing out justice himself.
This is a unique thriller, with its choice to cast the opposite of a bad-ass in the role of the main character.  This grounds the typical revenge plot into reality, lends itself to more interesting, unique plot twists, and has the interesting aspect of a flawed, nearly anti-hero main character that the reader still roots for.  See my full review here.

For readers of multi-generational family dramas and GLBTQ lit:

Road during a rainstorm.The Value Of Rain by Brandon Shire
$4.99
Charles hasn’t been home since his mother and uncle sent him away to an insane asylum at the age of fourteen after he was found in the embrace of his first love–Robert.  Now, ten years later, his mother, Charlotte, is dying, and he comes back to take his revenge.
This is one of those genre-defying books.  Shire explores the devastating effects of prejudice, hate, secrets, and lies throughout family generations, and that is something that is simultaneously universal and tragic.  See my full review here.

I hope this list helps you find a read for yourself or a gift for another.  Feel free to ask questions about any of these books or ask for recommendations for books for particular recipients in the comments!

Book Review: The Coin by Glen Cadigan

A dime sits on a black background between the title and author name, both of which are on a marble background.Summary:
When Richard’s physicist professor uncle dies tragically in a plane crash and leaves him his coin collection, he is shocked to find a brand-new dime from 2012.  The only thing is, it’s 1989.  A note from his uncle states that the coin is important.  Richard thinks the answer to the mystery might be in his uncle’s personal diaries he also left him, but he’s not a physicist and can’t decipher them.  As the year 2012 approaches, Richard increasingly wonders what the coin is all about.

Review:
I had previously reviewed a book by Glen Cadigan, Haunted (review), whose concept I really enjoyed.  When he offered me this novella, I was happy to accept.  This fun novella tells an old-fashioned scifi mystery story in a way that reminded me of reading similar works from the 1800s.

Richard’s first-person narration follows a style similar to that used often in older scifi; it reads as if the main character is writing everything down in his journal for longevity.  It’s a cozy narration style that works well for the slow-moving mystery it tells.

This narration style also helps establish Richard into a well-rounded character quickly.  The reader almost immediately feels an intimacy with Richard as he discusses his sorrow at his beloved uncle’s sudden death, why he was close to his uncle, and his thoughts on the mysterious coin.  The uncle is, perhaps, less well-rounded but only in the sense that the reader comes to know him only through the eyes of a loving relative.  It thus makes sense that mostly his good qualities come through.

Cadigan artfully maneuvers Richard’s handling of the mystery from the days before the internet to present.  Richard first employs old-fashioned research techniques to try to figure out the mystery then loses interest.  With the advent of the internet, though, he regains interest and starts researching again.  This is completely realistic and reads just like what a person might have done.

Some basics physics of time-travel and time-travel theories are included.  They are written at the right level for a general audience reading a scifi book, neither talking down to nor being too technical.

What really made me enjoy the book was the resolution to the mystery.  I should have seen it coming, but I did not, and I always enjoy a surprise that feels logical when I think back on it.

So why four stars and not five?  The novella left me wanting something more.  It felt almost too short.  Like there was something left out.  Perhaps more time spent on Richard’s researching of the mystery or snippets from the uncle’s journals or some photos of the uncle and his airplane might have helped it feel more fully fleshed-out and real.  The old-school narration style was enjoyable but some additions of some of the types of things a person might put in their journal would help it feel more complete.  Even some simple sketches or perhaps a poem by Richard about his uncle, since he’s in the humanities, would have helped.

Overall, this novella is a fun new take on the storytelling method of having a character write in their journal about a mystery.  The science is strong enough to be interesting but not too challenging, and the result of the mystery is surprising.  Some readers might be left wanting a bit more to the story.  Recommended to fans of scifi classics such as The Time Machine or The Invisible Man.

4 out of 5 stars

Source: Kindle copy from author in exchange for my honest review

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Book Review: Braided by Elora Bishop (Series)

February 12, 2013 5 comments

Girl's hair with flowers and ribbons braided into it.Summary:
A lesbian retelling of Rapunzel.  Gray, a witch’s daughter, visits Zelda every day.  The witch switched Gray’s fate into Zelda, so now Zelda is the one entwined with the spirit of the tree that the people worship.  She must live on the platform and every day lower her hair for people to tie ribbons and prayers into.  Gray feels horrible guilt over their switched fates, but she’s also falling in love with Zelda.

Review:
I’m a sucker for fairy tale retellings, although I can be fairly picky about whether or not I like them.  But Rapunzel is a tale that is not redone often enough, in my opinion, and the fact that it was a lesbian version made me jump at this novella.

It’s nice that the retelling doesn’t just change the genders of the main romantic pairing and leave it at that.  In the original version, a married couple steal from a witch’s garden and in payment they must give her their unborn child who she then locks up into a tower.  She would let her long hair down for her witch/mother to use as a ladder to get into the tower.  A prince years later hears her singing in the tower and helps her escape.  In this retelling, the people worship a tree.  When the tree starts to die they tie its spirit into a person.  That person lives on a platform in the tree and the people pray to him/her.  When the person dies, the fate to be tied to the tree randomly chooses a baby by putting a tree pattern on their chest.  This fate is supposed to be Gray’s, but her mother somehow acquires another baby, Zelda, and with magic cuts the fate out and ties it to her instead.  Gray knows this and at first visits Zelda out of guilt but eventually falls in love with her.  This version, surprisingly, is actually a lot more fantastical and magical.  There is even a quest within an alternate dimension/dream world.  I enjoyed the increase in the otherworldly feel, and I liked that it lent the twist of a parent trying to protect her child rather than a mother smothering her child.

The writing has an earthy, magical quality to it.  It’s definitely language that is looking to be pretty, and it mostly succeeds.  The romance between Zelda and Gray is sweet and very YA.  Their passion revolves entirely around kissing and holding.  I like that it gives a soul and connection to the romance without ignoring the physical aspect.  It’s the perfect balance for this type of story.

While I enjoyed reading the story, I must admit it wasn’t my ideal retelling of Rapunzel.  I didn’t like the religious aspect that was drawn into it, and I did feel that Zelda falling for Gray was a bit fast, particularly given the fate switching aspect of the story.  I was also disappointed to see that in spite of all the other changes in the story, the Rapunzel character is still blonde.  I’m not sure why no one ever seems to change this when retelling Rapunzel.

Overall, this is a fun retelling of Rapunzel, particularly if you’re looking for a non-heteronormative slant or enjoy a more magical feel.  Note that this is part of a series entitled Sappho’s Fables, which consists of lesbian retellings of fairy tales.  The novellas may be mixed and matched.  Recommended to GLBTQ YA fans who enjoy a fairy tale.

4 out of 5 stars

Source: Amazon

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Book Review: Addicted by S. A. Archer and S. Ravynheart (Series, #2)

August 13, 2012 2 comments

Woman with short hair standing in front of a city skyline and the moon.Summary:
If a human is touched once by a Sidhe, they become addicted….heroin addict level addicted.  Since London’s Sidhe died, she now has to periodically put her private investigator for paranormal clientele job aside in order to seek out more Sidhe for a fix. This time, a bunch of young vampires say they know where she can have a changeling teleport her to an enslaved Sidhe….for a price.

Review:
Series of fast-paced novellas are becoming more popular in urban fantasy and paranormal romance.  I know I enjoy them as a kind of single-serving of ice cream.  Fun and delicious and able to get through in those 40 minutes your bread is in the oven or something.  I read the first book in the Touched series, and since I enjoyed it, Archer, one of the authors, was kind enough to send along the next entry in exchange for my honest review.  It was still fun, but not quite as well-written as the first.

The world of the paranormal in the UK and Ireland that Archer has created continues to be creative and engaging.  While some of her paranormal creatures are typical (such as the vampires) others are more unique, like the changelings and fairies.  For instance, having a changeling run the whole come party and suck the blood or touch a Sidhe thing was pretty unique!  In other series, that would definitely be the sort of thing run by vampires.

Unfortunately, I didn’t find the characterizations as good this time around.  London comes off as a bit flat, as do the vampires around her.  Most distressing to me, though, as an American reader is her American character she put in.  London meets a guy when doing a job for the changelings.  She can tell he is American because, I kid you not, he is wearing a flannel shirt and a cowboy hat. Erm, ok.  More annoying though is the fact that this American dude twice says, “shite.” Americans don’t say “shite,” except perhaps for some 20-something hipsters who are trying to be ironic.  This 40-something mercenary is definitely not a hipster. He would say “shit.”  If you are going to have a character from a country besides your own, you really need to fact-check how they speak, and especially how they swear.  He’s not a major character, and I probably would have noticed it less if this was a book and not a novella.  He was a lot more noticeable since he was present for most of the novella.

Overall, then, the world is interesting but the characters could use a bit of work.  If you’re just looking for some light, quick urban fantasy to brighten up your day, though, it might be worth your 99 cents.  Personally, though, I won’t be continuing on with the series.

3.5 out of 5 stars

Source: Kindle copy from author in exchange for my honest review

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Previous Books in Series:
Cursed (review)

Book Review: Haunted by Glen Cadigan

June 11, 2012 4 comments

Spooky black and white picture.Summary:
Mark is an Iraq War vet with PTSD, so he counts himself lucky when a Gulf War vet gives him the chance to be a security guard at an office tower.  Unfortunately, he’s the night watchman, and he doesn’t seem to be alone in the tower.

Review:
This is a unique, sympathetic story idea that is not as well-executed as it deserves.

Mark is ultimately a well-rounded character, but it takes too long to get to know him in this novella.  Since it is in first-person narrative, he has the option of holding off on telling us about his PTSD symptoms and how they affect him.  While a soldier would certainly most likely be more stoic in a traditionally masculine way, it gets in the way of the reader understanding where Mark is coming from and empathizing with him.  He *tells* us that his PTSD makes his life difficult, but we don’t really ever see it.

Because this is a first person novella, this problem with the characterization gets in the way of the strengths of the scifi/fantasy plot, which is honestly fairly unique.  I was glad I got to the end and saw the surprise reveal, but I certainly wasn’t expecting such a good twist from the rest of the book.

Essentially, the scifi/fantasy element of the book is strong, but the characterization at the center of the first person narrative is weak.  Although Mark is a soldier, Cadigan shouldn’t be afraid to let us see the vulnerability of his PTSD.  Recommended to fans of a unique ghost story looking for a quick read.

3 out of 5 stars

Source: Kindle copy from author in exchange for my honest review

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